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Cops order painting removed, then apologize

An unknown officer asked gallery to remove nude, but a commander defends it


Tattoo Devil Studios & Gallery sits at the corner of Hillsborough Road and Ashe Avenue. Co-owner Hunter Spanks noticed a slight increase in attention from passersby two weeks ago. "Nine times out of ten people will glance at the windows and walk by," he said, "but on that particular day, I did notice a handful of people walk back and check it out." Two paintings by Raleigh artist Ana Vizcarra were hanging in their storefront window: "Magdalena Sacrosancta Deletati" is a classical female nude; the woman's head is framed by a halo, and if you look closely, you'll notice another halo encircling her pelvis, and the back of a head just beneath her pubic hair in the corner of the frame. The other painting, "More Sex Than Violence," is a more abstract image of a woman's body, drawn and quartered, her entrails hanging out, framed by a pentagram.

Guess which one got a double-take.

A little after 9 p.m. on Sept. 15, Spanks says, a Raleigh police officer came into the store and told Spanks that he'd "had some complaints" about the nude painting and asked them to take it out of the front window. "I probably should have stood up a little bit more at that point," Spanks says, "but we didn't know where we stood. So we removed it." Spanks says he didn't think to get the officer's card and doesn't remember his name.

About a week later, Tattoo Devil owners decided to re-hang the painting after their attorney assured them they had broken no city ordinances, and that if they had, the officer should have written up a citation before asking that the artwork be removed.

That same afternoon, Tattoo Devil got another visit from the Raleigh police. This time it was District Commander Capt. Dennis Poteat, with an apology. "He said he likes for his officers to be aggressive and everything, but there's enough for them to worry about without policing artwork in a window. He was really nice and apologized three, four, five times. He said, 'We're not fashion police.' At this point they're trying to figure out who this officer was and it very well might not be someone from his particular district." (A spokesperson for the Raleigh police confirmed the account.)

Spanks asked Poteat to come out front and see the painting in the window. "He didn't bat an eye."

As for Vizcarra, she's glad her work is back up. "As an artist I felt really vindicated that Hunter and Tattoo Devil would go the extra mile to put the work back up and defend my right as an artist to express myself," she says.

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